China’s new cyber-court in the city of Hangzhou will start hearing cases today that exclusively deal with e-commerce and internet-related cases, according to China Law Blog. The court will have the ability to handle all aspects of a case online from beginning to end.
The court will accept filings electronically and try cases via live stream for the following areas of dispute: contract disputes arising from online shopping, product liability disputes arising from online shopping, internet service contract disputes, internet copyright infringement disputes, and disputes arising from financial loans executed online.
Hangzhou, which is about an hour from Shanghai, has been dubbed the “capital of Chinese e-commerce,” and is home to companies like Alibaba and NetEase as well as China’s national-level cross-border e-commerce pilot zone, which leads efforts to set standards for procedures and supervision of e-commerce transactions.
Per China civil procedure law, suits against companies must be handled in the city where the company principally operates or has registered its address, and Hangzhou courts have seen a dramatic increase in e-commerce cases over the past few years, from 600 in 2013 to over 10,000 in 2016.
To file a case, plaintiffs must first have their identity verified either through Alipay (Alibaba’s payment service), or by physically showing an ID to a court clerk in Hangzhou. Once filed, pre-trial mediation is attempted through internet, phone, or videoconference, and if a resolution is not reached, the suit is formally submitted to the case filing division of the court, which is handled online.
Individuals can also submit evidence and attend their trial remotely through their created cyber-court account. All data transmissions related to court proceedings are encrypted by Alibaba Cloud.
The court’s website says a lawsuit can be filed in five minutes, and that litigating these types of cases online will save time and reduce costs. Du Qian, the cyber-court chief justice, told the official Supreme People’s Court news agency that the cyber court will “offer regular people an efficient, low-cost solution to these new kinds of disputes that take place on the internet,” and that “it will also give online shopping the same degree of judicial protection as consumption at brick-and-mortar stores.”
A judge from China’s Jiangsu Province anonymously told the Global Times that “the Hangzhou Internet Court is likely to someday directly intervene in trade disputes on popular shopping sites, such as Taobao.”
Taobao, an online marketplace founded by Alibaba, has recently been under fire for allowing vendors to sell both illegal VPNs that allow individuals to bypass China’s online censorship and customized photos and videos featuring African children that have been called racist and exploitative. If the newly established cyber-court handles cases against Taobao, that means Alibaba could end up hosting and authorizing legal proceedings against itself.